Visit sows seeds of ties with UK

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Foreign minister Prak Sokhonn (right) greets UK Minister of State for Asia Amanda Milling at the foreign ministry in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. FOREIGN MINISTRY

Prime Minister Hun Sen thanked the UK government for maintaining Cambodia’s market access arrangements under its Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) for least developed countries, among other aid initiatives.

Hun Sen extended his gratitude via a press statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on January 12 as British Minister of State for Asia Amanda Milling wrapped up her visit.

Milling’s visit to Cambodia was the first high-profile visit since the UK became an official dialogue partner of ASEAN, which Cambodia chairs this year.

“[Hun Sen] also thanked the UK for providing socio-economic assistance to Cambodia in the fields of education, mine clearance, environment and to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia [ECCC],” said the press statement.

Hun Sen further thanked his British counterpart Boris Johnson for his virtual participation in the 13th Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM13) hosted and chaired by Cambodia in November 2021. He commended the UK’s active role in combating the Covid-19 pandemic, including its contribution of 415,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines.

Milling also thanked Cambodia for its strong support for the upgrading of UK-ASEAN relations to the level of dialogue partner and she expressed a strong commitment on behalf of her government to supporting Cambodia as the ASEAN chair this year.

She said the UK looked forward to further strengthening bilateral relations between the two countries as well as ASEAN-UK cooperation and implementing the ASEAN-UK Plan of Action (POA) for 2022-2026.

During her visit, Milling and foreign minister Prak Sokhonn noted the decreased volume of trade due to the impacts of Covid-19 and expressed hope that it would soon pick up again.

“[Sokhonn] encouraged UK investors to invest in Cambodia, taking into consideration all of the benefits of Cambodia’s market access including RCEP, Cambodia-China FTA and the Cambodia-ROK FTA,” said the press statement, referring to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Cambodia-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and Cambodia-South Korea FTA.

Milling affirmed that Cambodia will be a vital partner for the UK in 2022 as it seeks an ever-closer relationship with ASEAN and is committed to boosting ties in the region.

“Coming to Phnom Penh as my first visit of the year demonstrates our commitment to boosting ties and working with Cambodia to solve some of the region’s biggest challenges, from building back better from Covid-19 to resolving the crisis in Myanmar and tackling climate change,” she said in a statement.

Milling also met with many other senior government officials such as Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron, Royal Academy of Cambodia president Sok Touch, Minister of Environment Say Sam Al, and former opposition leader Kem Sokha, among others.

Minister Chuon Naron discussed with Milling how the UK can support Cambodia in education, including boosting opportunities for young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Sokha, former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party who is awaiting trial on “treason” charge, said that during the meeting on January 10, Milling wanted to know his views on the political situation in the country in the context of the elections in 2022 and 2023.

“[Milling] also stated that the UK will continue to closely monitor the judicial process and the outcome of the forthcoming trial as it relates to my freedom and my participation in the upcoming electoral and democratic processes in Cambodia,” he said in a Facebook post.

Ro Vannak, co-founder of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, told The Post on January 12 that Britain’s post-EU foreign policy has turned it into a key player in a tripartite alliance with the US and Australia to curb China’s growing influence in the region.

“Therefore, strengthening the British presence and influence with ASEAN – with Cambodia as the chair of the bloc this year – was inevitable. Great powers competition has returned to multi-polar international politics and, therefore, public diplomacy efforts will become more active by countries like Britain that have chosen sides in the competition,” he said.